Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Community sentence for dog attack father Orlando Shepherd

Orlando Shepherd with his son who was attacked by their dog. Photo / Doug Sherring
Orlando Shepherd with his son who was attacked by their dog. Photo / Doug Sherring

Almost three years after his 4-year-old son was viciously mauled by the family pitbull-mastiff dog, Orlando Shepherd has been told he will not go to jail.

The 41-year-old was instead sentenced to 300 hours' community work and 12 months' supervision for owning a dog that attacked a person.

That person was Shepherd's son, whose face and head were ripped into when 1-year-old Musha turned on him while they played unsupervised in the backyard of their Housing New Zealand home in Otahuhu in August 2014.

The boy, now aged 7, spent two weeks in Middlemore Hospital, including 10 days in intensive care, and is still receiving ongoing medical care.

Musha was put down days after the attack, but Auckland Council's bid to serve justice on Shepherd has dragged on for almost three years, after Shepherd attempted to unsuccessfully change his guilty plea, sacked his lawyers and several adjournments took place.

Today it came to an end.

Auckland Council wanted a jail sentence imposed as a message to dog owners that they must take responsibility for ensuring people are safe.

Crown prosecutor Richard Marchant said ACC figures showed the number of dog attacks had increased in the past few years and the council wanted owners to understand their responsibilities.

He asked for a jail sentence of 14 months, comparing the case to other serious dog attacks which had resulted in jail sentences.

"This is the most serious of cases to come before the courts. You should impose the most serious penalty."

Shepherd had acted immediately to help his son and have the dog taken away, but his son was also vulnerable because of his age, Marchant said.

Shepherd had also been warned by Musha's previous owners not to leave the dog alone with children.

The week before the attack Shepherd posted a photo of the dog on Facebook, with the message "Mess with me, I'll eat you alive".

Defence counsel Harvey Juran said the Facebook post was "stupid" and had haunted Shepherd since.

He had reacted appropriately when he became aware of the attack, and had also suffered.

Judge Frances Eivers said she agreed dog owners must know their responsibilities, but she had not been persuaded Shepherd's wrongdoing was as serious as previous cases that lead to jail sentences.

She did not believe jail was the appropriate outcome.

Shepherd had an ongoing relationship with his son, and would have to live with what had happened, Eivers said in passing her sentence.

But she wanted to make it clear that he must take responsibility.

"You didn't understand it, but it was your fault. You must live with that for the rest of your life."

Outside court, Shepherd said a lot of things said in court "didn't make sense at all" and he still did not believe he was at fault.

He claimed he had not been told by the Musha's previous owners that the dog was dangerous, and said the Facebook post was "bravado" because people had tried to burgle him.

The years since the attack had been hard, Shepherd said.

He was evicted from his Housing New Zealand home for owning a dog without permission, and had spent time living in cars and garages.

He was "scarred" by the attack and was doing counselling and "trying to be the best father I can be", he said.

His son was doing well.

"He's a strong boy."

Auckland Council Manager Animal Management Tracey Moore said the Shepherd case was a reminder that it was not just roaming dogs that attack people.

"It is important that people are careful around dogs in their own home, especially when children are present.

"We urge dog owners to do the right thing. Our statistics clearly show that responsible owners who register and de-sex their dogs are much less likely to have dogs that are the cause of nuisance or dog attacks."

Owners of menacing dogs were particularly encouraged to contact animal management to discuss how to handle their dogs.

A highly successful amnesty of menacing dogs last year ended with 1225 previously unregistered dogs being registered, Moore said.

- NZ Herald

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